Q: I’m ready to make the transition to a vegetarian diet. What do I need to know?
A: I have helped countless vegetarian and vegan athletes meet their nutritional needs and athletic goals. Follow a healthy, balanced diet and pay special attention to these things:
Ensure adequate protein needed for muscle recovery and building by including about 20 grams per meal. Example: Include 1 cup quinoa and beans plus 3 ounces tofu or Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup high-protein granola OR 1 cup edamame plus 1 cup kale.
Increase your iron intake to maximize oxygen carrying capacity of your blood. Beans, oats, pumpkin seeds, tofu and fortified breakfast cereals are all good sources. Enjoy with a source of vitamin C, or snack on dates, raisins or watermelon daily.
Include white and kidney beans, chickpeas or wheat germ for adequate zinc to support your immune system.
Vitamin B12 is also key in red blood cell formation—and is only found in animal products. If you are not eating dairy or eggs, you will need to supplement.
Lauren Antonucci, R.D., is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman finisher and the founding director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.